Aucilla River Project ends. FSU exploration on tap

by Ray Cichon

Jefferson County resident John Eveland has served as a volunteer on the Aucilla River explorations.

As such, he notes that the University of Florida project, under the direction of David Webb of the Florida Museum of Natural History’s Department of Vertebrate Paleontology, conducts two diving and exploration sessions each year.

A six week session begins the first week of May and continues to June, with a fall session covering four weeks in October.

Eveland notes that the project is staffed by volunteer divers and nondiving personnel.

Funded by the Florida Department of State Historical Resources Division, the National Geographic Society and many business and individual donors, the Aucilla River project has concluded its final season, he said.

However, Eveland reports, an FSU Underwater Archaeology Program, directed by Michael Faught, is on the horizon, and will do underwater exploration of the Aucilla River basin in the Gulf of Mexico.

As a volunteer serving on the fall exploration, Eveland shares with readers his observations:

Based at Nutall Rise, this past fall season’s explorations were conducted on the West Run of the Aucilla River, south of highway 98.

Boats are used to transport personnel and equipment from the base camp to the dive site. Since the series of storms in September caused the river to flood over its banks, canoes were the only floatable object to get under the highway 98 bridge, providing one lay flat while going under.

With those conditions, the boats and equipment had to be trailered overland each morning to Williams Landing south of the site and returned each evening.

The volunteers who had set up their tents had to move them to higher ground, because the camp, housed in a duplex, was completely surrounded by water, as was the cabin on the opposite side of the river, used by the project.

Canoes had to be used for transportation between the cabins instead of walking or driving. Towards the end of the first week the river peaked then slowly receded, and river travel was back to normal by the end of the season.

A normal day at the site consisted of three two hour dives by two teams.

Team A had two divers as did team B. For each dive, a safety diver and a dive master would be on duty aboard the dive barge.

Divers wore full diving gear but used S.A.S. (surface air supply) from a compressor aboard another vessel. Under normal conditions, the compressor, the generators, fuel and other equipment would be stationed on dry land.

Because of the flooding, the project had to improvise until the water receded. The dive teams would survey, locate, measure, map, then excavate bones and artifacts using a meter grid system.

A 6-inch and a 4-inch dredge would be used to excavate loose debris which was sent to the surface to two screen decks anchored in the middle of the river for further investigation.

Highlighting this past season was the recovery of 24 cm of an ivory shaft (broken in 5 pieces). A tool used by the Paleoindian dating 11,000+ years. A second ivory tool, 9 cm, was also recovered (See ‘Sloth Hole site update’).

The right side of a Mastodon mandible from a late Pleistocene context was recovered from the area where a 7.5 foot tusk was found earlier this year. Also many other Mastodon and various other animal bones were found.

A small beveled Bolen point and two Aucilla Adzes, all about 10,000 years old and left by people about a 1,000 years after the Mastodon and Mammoth became extinct.

Final interpretation, dating and analyses of all recovered material is undertaken at the University of Florida Museum of Natural History after the end of each dive season.

The personnel roster varied from 14-17 volunteers daily. A project of this magnitude would not be possible if not for all the volunteers from around the country. This season they came from as far away as Oregon, Tennessee, Vermont, Arizona, N. and S. Carolina, Georgia, and one from Sweden.

Editor's Note: This article appeared in the December 2, 1998 issue of the Monticello News. Monticello is the county seat of Jefferson County, which borders the west side of the Aucilla River. The author, Ray Cichon is managing editor of the Monticello News.